Preventing Online Censorship Section 230 Clarification Petition Sent to FCC by US Department of Commerce

Donald Trump

The US Department of Commerce has issued a petition to the FCC to clarify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, as per President Donald Trump’s Preventing Online Censorship executive order. (Thanks Jeff Ballabon!)

On May 28th, President Trump signed an executive order on Preventing Online Censorship,” after Twitter marked one of his tweets as “deceptive.” Trump had expressed concern that mail-in ballots “will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.

In summation, the executive order ascertains that social media is the modern “public square.” As such they would lose their protections from being liable for what users post, if they use “their power over a vital means of communication to engage in deceptive or pretextual actions stifling free and open debate by censoring certain viewpoints.”

Specifically, this was by “clarifying” section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act; which offered immunity from liability for social media platforms from what their users posted.

Under the executive order, it now serves its “true” purpose- to protect those engaging in “‘Good Samaritan’ blocking” of “harmful content.” This is content that is “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable.”

Now, the White House has announced that on July 27th the Department of Commerce has now filed a petition to clarify Section 230 to the FCC. As stated above, this asks to “clarify that Section 230 does not permit social media companies that alter or editorialize users’ speech to escape civil liability.”

The petition further requests the FCC clarify when an online platform is curating content in “good faith,” and for transparency on platforms moderation practices.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross explained why the proposal was so important in a statement by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“Many Americans rely on online platforms to stay informed and connected, sharing their thoughts and ideas on issues important to them, which can oftentimes lead to free and open debate around public policies and upcoming elections. It has long been the policy of the United States to foster a robust marketplace of ideas on the Internet and the free flow of information around the world. President Trump is committed to protecting the rights of all Americans to express their views and not face unjustified restrictions or selective censorship from a handful of powerful companies.”

The petition will also seek further information from the FCC, including:

  • “Whether, and to what degree, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides protection for social media’s content moderation decisions
  • The conditions under which content moderation and editorial decisions by social media companies shape content to such a degree that section 230 no longer protects them
  • Social media’s disclosure obligations with respect to their content moderation practices.”

You can read the full petition here.

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Image: Twitter

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